With brown-checkered curtains, wood-paneled walls, a fireplace, and electric lanterns over the tables, Tom Sawyer Restaurant & Pastry Shop evokes the feel of a homey general store. To accompany the frontier-like ambience, the cooks spend their mornings whisking together hearty breakfasts of scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes with enough syrup to float a log cabin. Although the restaurant's lunch specials rotate daily, certain homestyle favorites?including orders of fried chicken and open-faced turkey sandwiches?regularly fly out to tables until 3 p.m..
The aroma of slow-simmering caramel and chocolate wafts through Hoffman’s Chocolate’s Greenacres headquarters. To demystify its origins, the shop’s chocolatiers have outfitted their kitchen with observation windows, granting customers the chance to admire their delicate handiwork and holiday helper subcontractors. They meticulously lace European truffles with chocolate drizzles, and dunk cherries and pretzels in milk and dark chocolate. This devotion to small batches of handmade treats extends back to the 1970s, when founder Paul Hoffman began peddling treats out of his small Lake Worth chocolate shop. Over the decades, chocolatiers have expanded the bakery’s repertoire to include whimsical confections such as enormous fortune cookies and seasonal treats.
A third-generation Chinese restaurateur, Dragon Star owner Francisco Cho takes taste buds on a journey through Cantonese- and Szechuan-style cuisine, which his chefs make entirely from scratch and to order. Under the soft flicker of paper lanterns, amid four flat-screen TVs, guests lounge atop plush seats and nibble favorites such as kung pao chicken, sweet 'n' sour tofu, sesame beef, and barbecue spare ribs while imbibing BYOB drinks. Most of Dragon Star's cuisine is also available for takeout, provided customers have secured reservations at their dining room table.
The Jamaican-born family members who own and operate Big Taste Caribbean Restaurant have created a visual and culinary oasis reminiscent of their native island and its neighbors. Basking in the vivid rays of a wall-length mural of a smiling red-and-orange sun, chefs craft small batches of traditional oxtail with plantains along with their own recipes for signature jerk sauce and curried shrimp. The aromas of chicken grilled over an open flame and Fridays' yard-style fish fries invite passersby to experience the cooking of the tropics. As day sets into night, cues clink on the golden pool table and a ceiling fan lazily goads the air into circles simulating a Caribbean breeze or a coconut's whispered plea to be turned into a piña colada. Live DJs and dance performances occasionally sway the straws sticking out of a Jamaican Red Stripe lager to the beat of reggae, hip-hop, and dancehall music.
Leah Gizzi builds fresh pastas and sauces using imported ingredients chosen for their quality, such as Fiorucci genoa salami and Strianese DOP tomatoes. A stash of local veggies and herbs grown in her personal garden help her form her selection of crowd favorites that include her roasted-red-pepper noodles, meatballs, red gravy, and shells stuffed with spinach and ricotta. Leah also mixes fine ingredients into her cannolis and in her cakes, including one that comes in the shape of a three-dimensional teddy bear. On Sunday, she heads over to The Buttonwood Plaza Artisan’s Market, where she sells her handcrafted foods and easy-to-assemble Italian-dinner kits.
The hookah's natural habitat is not a nightclub with crashing music and empty drinks slamming against tables. The hookah experience, according to Kimm Smith of Hookah House, should be unrushed and mellow. "It's very meditative," she says, "and should be shared with people you care about." This was the atmosphere in which co-owner Zo spent his childhood in Algeria, where people would spend long hours gathering with friends and families in hookah lounges. He and his Bostonian wife, Michelle, wanted to bring that aspect of Algerian culture to the United States, both to spread a feeling of community and as an homage to the marriage of their distinct backgrounds.
As the fruit-tinged smoke of shisha rises from between murmuring visitors, it passes rich fabrics, which drape the exposed-brick walls, and bright lanterns dangling from a marigold ceiling. Stories seem to overflow from the furniture and textiles, gathered during the couple’s travels in Algeria or preserved from Zo's former life as a sommelier in Paris. This is where patrons linger, resting shoeless feet on bright cushions and pillows as they converse or check email on the free wireless internet. Atop inlaid tables, servers place Turkish coffee, house blends of Moroccan tea, and small plates of Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
On some weekend evenings, live jazz stirs guests to twist among tendrils of smoke before a DJ steps up to spin a range of music, from Earth, Wind & Fire to Jimi Hendrix. Belly dancers, with bells and scarves for all to borrow, demonstrate to patrons how to pass lie-detector tests with just their hips. A psychic-in-residence reads coffee grounds most nights, translating the earthy onyx shapes into predictions about the drinker's future.